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Serial Reading/Singular Reading

There was a time, long ago, when I only valued, personally (I mean, as opposed to appreciating books on reading lists, unavoidable classics, books on my parents' shelves) books I believed were entirely singular. I found my treasure, by chance, in second hand bookshops, on stalls, at Jumble Sales.You couldn't buy books like these from a shiny branch of Waterstones, you would never see them reviewed. Arthur Machen's stories came into this category (every singular one of them). I was thrilled when I found a collection of his works, some with uncut pages, lurking on the P stacks in Sussex University library.

Now the dusty backstreet bookshops where lost treasure could be found are rare, lost treasures themselves, and even The Golden Centipede has a web presence. (I love the fact that the cutting I've linked is from NZ. I once found A Campfire Girl's First Council Fire in a charity shop in Auckland, when all I knew of the Campfire Girls came from intriguing references in the Abbey Girls series), & I recognise a different kind of singularity. Genre is serial, genre readers know the plot, they read to find out exactly how things are going to turn out this time. Proper highbrow mainstream writers write singular books, each one a new start.

Still, occasionally I find a book, such as The End Of Mr Y. I'd never heard of Scarlett Thomas, I just saw this book in the library, picked it up every now and then, and put it down a few times. I assumed it was to do with sex chromosomes, and confused it with the comic book series Y: The Last Man. In the end, I took it home with me, & discovered, terrific, wonderful, it's not the Y chromosome at all. It's Mr Y as in Mystery, or maybe Mr Why?, if you want to preserve the motif of a Virgilian guide to the Underworld. A young woman living the life of an Arthur Machen character, starving scholar, obsessed with strange semi-occult C19 mysticism. She finds a weird book she has longed to find, in a dusty backstreet shop, and. . . and I was absolutely sold until about p.206, when the seedy, desolate half-world reverie (Arthur Machen is back, decor updated for the C21 and he's a girl!) suddenly gave way to a paranormal thriller plot with holy water homeopathy & renegade men-who-stare-at-goats and my attention wavered. I looked up the mysterious Ms Thomas, something I'd promised myself I would not do until the end, & found she's teaching creative writing at Kent, & has a "classy oddball" sheet a mile long.

What'll I do now? The trouble with singular writers is that each is a genre in his or herself, as unmistakable and specific as Westerns, SF, Thrillers etc. As you may know, Gravity's Rainbow is one of my major touchstones, but I don't value anything else by Pynchon. No, it's no use, it's like reading the same book over and over again & noticing everything that jars. What if the "girls' boarding school" bit is the true Thomas? I don't like fiction about the mean thoughts of mean girls, so I'll be repelled. . .

I'll give her the benefit of the doubt of course, no matter how the end of mystery turns out. Classy genre writing gets called oddball, and she seems to have a detective series going. Excellent.


Saturday 22nd May, warm and clear, a fine day for taking Australians to see Lewes, with a proper castle, cream tea, cucumber sandwiches & everything but the beach. Beach at Newhaven, the only actual sand for miles around, has been cancelled, due to a dispute between Lewes Council and Natural Heritage or some such who run the carpark. Ah, well. Time to get in some birdwatching.

You had to be there, but this was such fun.
What d'you think? Do I have a career in conceptual art? Be honest, don't be afraid of hurting my feelings. . .

Four lions: Fools Rush In

May 20th, early morning mist swiftly burned off, a clear blue sky, a truly warm day shaping up.
Went to see Four Lions last night. The Duke's was stuffed, which was not the case for AGORA! I laughed, or snorted, occasionally, but I find I mainly agree with the uneasy reviews. It was funnier, much better acted, altogether a better product but in the end as jarring as Nathan Barley. I don't know. Maybe it's generational, or maybe the punters around me, relentlessly roaring with laughter all the way through, stopped me from seeing the virtue and profundity of this comic turn.

It's amazing what people will laugh at, esp the English. They get primed, they've been told it's cool to find something funny, so they laugh and they just go on laughing, without ever engaging brain, when all the laughter should stop, and silence should fall.

Six swifts hawking in the gulf of blue evening air last night. It's not enough for a screaming party, but better news of this year's migration on the Swiftwatch page.

Finally did that housekeeping on Gwynethann, the Wild Hearts correction, and updated the Books page to reflect current stocks.

That Volcano: The fallout has reached me! All the cheap advance fares to Manchester, in commuter hours, have been booked, through to August. Auggh. Oh well, I suffer but I'm compensated, domestic air travel has been judged not worth counting on.

Social Networking: AGORA

May bouquet
Wednesday 19th May, clear and fair, warmer weather continues. Deep mist at 6am, clearing to a dimmer version of yesterday's brilliant blue and silver morning.

Dear "friends", it's like this. A long time ago, longer ago than most of you can possibly remember, when I was first introduced to communication via the amazing internet, I noticed something and told my mentor, the Viridian Pope as would be: Bruce, this is a public place. You can tell me the community of digerati trust each other and revere freedom of speech, fine, but one cannot communicate anything one would not write on the back of a postcard, or discuss on an old fashioned telephone like with the operator listening-in. . .

The internet is not a private place, the nature of the beast forbids it. But people who live their lives on Facebook or similar are accepting something else, besides the open line. It's like those rabbits in Watership Down, the ones with the highly developed social lives, who lived in a warren where the local humans mysteriously provided all amenities and delicious treats. . . Tragically, rabbits kept disappearing from this delightful place. Secretly everyone knew what was going on, but it was worth it. Those lovely treats! Facebook addicts are being eaten, and maybe it's the way of the world: we are a food source for the profit machine, whatever we do. But I don't often change my mind* so I'm still a contrarian here, same as I was nearly twenty years ago. (*Know thyself, I've said this in my old fragment of an autobiography on Gwynethann). So this is how it goes. You can "friend" me any time you like, and I'll probably say yes, although most of you I've never met and I never will. You can send me Facebook messages & I'll respond. Occasionally I'll "join" the whatever it is that's suggested. Otherwise, I'm inert.

I keep this occasional diary, which has no affiliations, no advertising, no status as a reviewing blog. I maintain (occasionally) Gwynethann, the site where I post free fiction and non-fiction, and sell books; where anyone can find my email address and "personal details". To me that seems like plenty.

Went to see AGORA last night. Loved it. Cosmology and a Cultural Revolution, seriously well-produced: now that's a rare treat indeed. Rachel Weisz was wonderful, her supporting cast of Roman Citizen good guyes and Rampant Christian bad guys were also great. References to another Cultural Revolution, ie the Spanish Civil War, aka first round of the War Against Fascism, inevitable and to my mind justified. Books get burned, Fascists are going to be referenced. Church as force for moral corruption, likewise. I'm not so sure about the Mingella character, Davus the troubled slave. Lusting after his mistress and then hating her and turning to Christianity because she patted him on the head and snapped at him: that's fine, very 1793, only something failed, his strand was muddled, too minor, possibly it was the acting, or maybe the 12A cert. But how handsomely staged! I loved the sweeps out from that perfectly formed model of 5th C Alexandria to the blue planet hanging in space, and the great starry sky.

I didn't mind at all that Hypatia was discovering elliptical planetary orbits etc, twelve hundred years before Kepler. It was wonderful to watch her, fascinated, concentrated, obsessed. (Yet not too obsessed to stand up, when it came to the point of accepting house arrest, or nobly taking the consequences.). We don't know what she did, we weren't there: and that's part of the point, hence the expression "Dark Ages". Didn't mind that young Orestes (later the nice, troubled Prefect) paraphrases Alfonso of Castile's dry, possibly apocryphal, C13 reaction to the Ptolemaic system in all its weird glory (If God had consulted me, I should have reccomended something a little simpler). I did mind that Hypatia was depicted as the only woman with any clout, the only woman at all indeed, with any speaking part, in 5th Century Alexandria. This does not make sense. Even the Apostle Paul, in first century Judea, was depending on donations from successful businesswomen, all the time he was ranting against uppity females from the pulpit (the shameles hypocrite). Hypatia was a rare person, a genius, I can believe it. But women were there. They were priestesses, they were independently wealthy entrepreneurs, they influential hostesses with salons, they were over-educated daughters. The women are always there, in political and cultural dramas of human history, but sometimes they get remembered and most times they don't & this is not a good time. Ironically, you'd have seen more women with more influence on the action in AGORA if the movie had come out in 1951, with Ava Gardner in the part.

Long post. Too long. I may come back and correct it, later (I did).

Little Gods

Thursday 13th May, brilliant blue morning sky, a little warmer today.

Cold and grey, cold and grey. Just before six, yesterday evening, I shut up shop and went down to the garden; knelt on the cold wet grass at the margin of the fish pool to see what I could see. Three brown and gold mottled frogs, in different spots, crouched on the bottom and among the roots of the yellow flag, looking as if they'd been gently flattened. Not doing much. The two newts, walking around at a leisurely pace, the male's crest clearly visible. Peter says they might have been coming here for years, and we just never spotted them. The flag roots make a wonderful tangled underwater cavern, now I can see them, and until last year there was the water lily (which we got rid of in the end, it was taking up too much space, tho' I liked bringing the lilies indoors). He could be right. Far overhead, one swift came tossing and fluttering out from above the houses, and then vanished again. I said the swifts are here, they're not really. I saw a tiny band of them arrive, at the end of April; since then only fleeting glimpses. I'm afraid the population, in my neighbourhood at least, has diminished beyond the point of no return. They will be gone, like the sparrows.

Did you know, newts can live for 20 or 30 years. The smooth newt's family name is Triturus vulgaris / Lissotriton vulgaris. I have two Tritons staying in my garden. Did you know, male newts lay eggs, (spermatopheres, hope that's spelled right) which the female newt fertilises in her cloaca? Now there's a neat model for reproductive sex role reversal, wonder if anyone has used it?

In the garden at Number 10, two fresh-faced public schoolboys stand behind lecterns. They already have their act worked out, but it's a bit crude as yet. Cameron speaks. Clegg turns toward him, adopting a faintly Byronic pose, and gazes soulfully for a count of eight, nine, ten seconds, then glances modestly away; then gazes again. The blushing bride. When Clegg speaks, Cameron does exactly the same thing: adopts the pose, gazes soulfully (he doesn't have to look up, however), glances aside, resumes his shy adoring gaze. The bashful swain.

Clegg has to do a lot more of the gazing and glancing part: which I suppose is fair.

I wonder if Cameron really will cancel the third runway at Heathrow. I think the Lib Dems are going to be eaten alive, they'll help the Tories to be better people the way gut bacteria aid digestion.

No, I think the Lib Dems are going to be like Hove, actually. More respectable, but just, well, not Brighton. The bit tagged on the end.

Sad News From The Frog Nursery

Monday 10th May, brilliant blue sky at 7am, swiftly shrouded: heavy cloud now with sun breaking through. Cold, dry, grey-skies Maytime weather pattern persists, same as it has for a decade. Except a bit colder.

Tragedy has struck. Overnight, between Saturday and Sunday, one of my froglets mysteriously disappeared. There's a faint chance it disappeared under its own steam, and we'll find a tiny shrivelled corpse under the furniture one day, but they don't usually climb out of the water until their tails have practically vanished. I'm afraid a simpler explanation comes to mind. I spent a couple of hours yelling at both the cats, whenever I saw them.



I'm sure that did a lot of good. Bowl now has a swiftly improvised cat-proof perspex cover.

On the plus side, a pair of newts have turned up in the fish pool, which is beautifully clear now. (And this possibly explains why there are zip, nada, not a single frog tadpole left alive in there) I hoped they might be Great Crested, which I have never seen in the wild, because one of them does seem to have a crest, but internet id swiftly proved them to be Smooth Newts. I wonder are they just passing through (newts get about a lot) or will they stay!

Many thanks to Matthew Johnson for a correction to my essay "Wild Hearts In Uniform". The correct derivation of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin's nickname will be added on Gwynethann real soon now. I meant to work on that site on Sunday, but I am a wastrel and made another attempt at the Cave Of Ordeals instead. (My last attempt was in March; then our big Wire fest, and other less pleasant things intervened, so RPG playing was put on hold). I have lost my edge, one loses an edge swiftly at my age, but I'll get it back.

I like it when people pay attention. & I like it very much when people who don't necessarily share my opinions find my criticism thoughtful and interesting. Not so happy about being found to be "angry", as in Farah Mendlesohn's review on Strange Horizons. You'd think, wouldn't you, that it would be a bigoted sf-misogynist, who would review work like mine and announce "Oooh, lookit that angry feminist! She's so angry". But I'm sure these female reviewers don't mean to be destructive. On the contrary, I feel I'm somewhat being used as a human shield. Gwyneth is "angry" because Farah can't afford to be; Gwyneth is "angry" because Cheryl can't afford to be (that was for Life in 2004). At least Cheryl's not so sure she's a feminist herself, these days (cf her review of Spirit,where we learn that "the feminists" are down on transexuals). . . And good for her on that. I don't think I'll ever convince Farah that her kind of feminism, a feminism that offends nobody in the boys' club, does no good to anyone. It doesn't even work as appeasement, because nowadays, the whole world having taken such a lurching swing to the right, at the dawn of this century, the hardline sf misogynists cannot be appeased.

It's not easy but it is possible to be out as a feminist, in UKSF. My long survival proves that. It'll be uncomfortable at times, and your books will catch a few mean, unscrupulous reviews: but whose books do not, no matter what their politics? And on the plus side, the respect you gain, for yourself and for feminism, from men and women of goodwill who may or may not share your opinions, will be the real thing.


Saturday May 8th, cold and cloudy, random bursts of fine chilly rain. Real Festival weather, as we say in our city. . . And how about those trainspotters! You won't see me say this very often, but down here in my sea of blue, and though I was very glad I had a different choice, I was proud of them. NB, if they fail to set the mainland adrift this time, that feeling will be withdrawn.

Election Fever

Friday 7th May, cloudy skies clearing to blue, a little late sunshine. Fairly cool.

Greetings from a small green dot in the midst of a sea of blue. . .

(my email heading for the day) I spent yesterday travelling up to Manchester and back, voting on the way to the station of course, and this felt a little strange, because twice in the Bold As Love series there's a crucial parliamentary vote, and both times, the perspective is given by one of the characters travelling, on trains, on the London Underground, and it's Springtime both times, too. Well, it would be, wouldn't it. I don't know if I looked at people and wondered how they'd vote, however: I had other things on my mind. Got back fairly late, stayed up until half past one, but then ran out of steam & went to bed, thinking on all those media people, the media-faces of the UK, and I don't usually really like any of them, but what fun they were having, staying up all night, all excited & I blessed them unaware, like the Ancient Mariner, for no reason except I liked to see them having fun. . .

Still feeling strange. I like coalition government, I think it is the future, and the fact that politicians do not like the idea is a very good reason to suspect it's a good thing. But here we are about to be ruled by not one but two fresh-faced Public Schoolboys, oh goodie, & not that I'm any sort of fan of Gordon Brown, not at all, but was it for this that my mother worked her little socks off in that long ago campaign in 1945? & yet Tim Farron got through, with a very handy-sized swing too, Caroline Lucas got the first Green seat, so we're sorted, me & mine (can't count Streatham, since the incumbents there are in Sao Paulo). and Gabriel rang me up to tell me he voted, first time (he's one of those bright-eyed hordes) & he had worked at it and taken an online questionaire (sp?) which showed the Party opinions with the labels torn off. and it turns out he is Green! (what a surprise, you may say).

Enough of this frivolity. I have legs! As of today, I have two froglets with four legs apiece.

Now that is definitely something to celebrate.

And here it is.

PS, the swifts are here.

Tadpoles In May

Wednesday 5th May, cloudy but warmer, few spots of rain around noon.

Here's the tadpole news: it's mixed. I had a big die-back in the yellow bucket, last week when the weather was very warm, and this week a moderate die-back in the plasterer's tub, no obvious reason why, except maybe that I had stopped covering the tub at night, and we've had a couple of very cold ones. On the plus side, my pets (the tadpoles reared indoors) are doing well. Two of them have well-developed back legs, a body shape that gets more defined by the hour and evil, glittering little eyes. . . (I've noticed this before, but it's purely an adolescent thing, never met a grown frog that didn't have perfectly mild-mannered gaze). I'm feeding them on the white of hardboiled egg, Peter having rejected the idea of stomped slug suspended on a thread as too disgusting & the other tadpole-rearing site suggestion, organic chicken breast, raw or cooked, as too ridiculous. (It doesn't have to be organic of course. One of the respondents gives a charming insight into her domestic habits: take a chunk of chicken tikka rinse it and "suspend on a thread".

The suspend on a thread thing is supposed to create an entertaining feeding frenzy, as the tads struggle to rear up and grab the tasty morsel, but I haven't tried it yet.

Many thanks to Ben Lund and Richard Palmer for their book orders, that's £25 so far to Amnesty and another £22 on the way.

Remember I said I'd enjoyed the Royal Society's 350th anniversary celebration essays, Seeing Further? I've now been invited, due to Sarah LeFanu, to speak at one of the celebratory events at the end of June. It's called Who Needs Men Anyway, and is all about the fragility of the Y chromosome. I'm to tell the people about the feminist science fiction angle. Thanks very much Sarah. I'll give it a go, how could I resist. More on this later.

Reading, Georgina Ferry's biography of Dorothy Hodgkin and enjoying it very much. In the past I've marked Dorothy Hodgkin down because, as you may know, our only female Nobel Laureate Chemist always maintained that being a woman had been no obstacle to her career. Easy enough for you to say, princess, was my verdict. Possibly you never noticed that you were rich and privileged. . . practically born with that proverbial £500 a year in your pocket.
But there's a lot more to it than that.

Watching: Saw The Ghost, thought it was okay. Watched the first episode of "Luther" Idris Elba's post-Stringer Bell debut on the tv last night. Won't be trying that again. Oh dear, oh dear. Crude, shallow, silly. We're back to that old favourite, lots and lots of running around meant to simulate urgency, the maverick cop with psychotic behaviour problems, and I do believe a Salander-copy-cat, the kooky, violent young female genius sidekick, but this time, hey, how cool, she's gone over to the Dark Side. Ridiculous.

And now, at last, back to work? I'm trying.